Category Archives: Features

Kevin Wiebe: Preparations of the Heart

by Kevin Wiebe

I must have appeared perplexed as I was sitting in my easy chair when my wife Emily walked in the room. “What’s wrong?” she inquired. I replied slowly and honestly, “Someone is wrong on the Internet.” She laughed hysterically.

In retrospect, my humorous response to my wife betrays my arrogance and perhaps even self-righteousness. There is, and always will be, the distinct possibility that my understanding of things is faulty; and humility in such matters is an important thing that we all too often leave behind.

Hypothetical Situation

It seemed that I had once again gotten myself into some discussion online, and I felt like a sheep among wolves in the discussion about the value (or supposed lack thereof) of peaceful conflict resolution. Though this debate will continue to rage on, it has become my perspective that Christians should seek peaceful solutions to conflict, rather than seeking to justifying a so-called “right” to use violence to solve problems.

As is often the case in such discussions, a hypothetical situation was mentioned: a fictitious evil thief comes to break in and steal, and how it is not only a right, but a duty to destroy all who might infringe on our territory.

I understand that social media cannot do justice to such widely contested and nuanced topics such as this, and I do not bring it up to continue the debate. Rather, I mention it because it revealed in myself an inconsistency that I had never thought about.

Fallacy of False Dichotomies

This hypothetical situation about the thief is one that I had never been able to answer properly. What would I do? I’m not sure, since it has never happened to me; and realistically it is something that most of us will never have to face.

But the responses we often prepare ourselves for are almost always ones that involve violence against the offender or to allow the violence of the offender to go unchallenged. Neither of these options is truly redemptive to all the people in the situation—both the victims and the perpetrator.

But were these the only options? Perhaps there are other options.

In philosophical terms, when trying to reason through such discussions there is in logic the fallacy of false dichotomies. This fallacy is committed when a limited number of solutions are offered, but where, in fact, there are more possibilities.

Yearning for a Third Way

In this case, the options presented are not the only options available. There is another way. In the hypothetical situation of the thief, it is assumed that the only options are to destroy or be destroyed.

But for the first time when I thought of this fictional scenario, I yearned for a solution that protected myself while also restoring what was broken in the life of the thief. I longed for a third way.

This is That

As if a lightbulb came on, suddenly what I thought was a discussion about violence and peace became a lesson to me about about something totally different: preparedness. For what am I preparing myself? Am I preparing myself to do violence, or am I preparing myself to defend the dignity of all persons, both my own and that of a burglar, in a creative and peaceful way?

Jesus tells us in Luke 6:45, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

Incredibly Convicting

This verse was incredibly convicting to me. Hypothetical situations aside, I had not been storing up good in my heart in many areas of life. And how often is this the case for so many of us?

We prepare ourselves and posture ourselves to defend ourselves against so many potential dangers. We store up in ourselves self-interest. We store up in ourselves answers to questions so that we can hit others over the head with our vast knowledge. We store up for ourselves money and power to use against those who might be different from us.

But how often do we think about how we might be a blessing to others? How often do we store up in our hearts different ways of showing Christ’s unconditional love to others? How often in discussions have I prepared harsh words to make someone look unintelligent instead of preparing words of love and kindness?

A Scene

Take, for example, a scene in Les Misérables. A thief, Jean Valjean, steals from bishop Myriel, and when he is dragged back to the church by the authorities, they tell the bishop that the thief claimed the goods were a gift. The bishop immediately responds by saying that they were a gift—though, in fact, they were stolen.

That, however, is not the end. The bishop tells the thief that he forgot the most valuable gift behind and hands him a pair of expensive candlesticks. Moved by this act of grace, the thief changes his ways. Though a fictional story, this is a great example of a man who was prepared to act in creative and peaceful ways that allow yet another opportunity for redemption.

A Toolbox in the Trunk

I like to keep a small toolbox in the back of my car. I keep some basic tools inside in case something breaks down or I need to fix something when away from home. These tools each have a different function, and I hand-selected each one with a purpose to deal with a variety of situations. These tools have been incredibly helpful for me in many situations, and interestingly, I use them to help others more often than I use them to help myself.

I prepared myself with some tools that help to fix things. As situations have arisen, I have found that those tools are what I have to use to help myself or others. The same is true with the first-aid kit I keep in the car, or the Band-Aid that I keep in my wallet. In those moments of crisis, the only tools at my disposal are those I have prepared.

Prepared For What?

In the same way as a toolbox in my car, we can prepare our hearts and train ourselves to respond in certain ways. We can store up in our hearts words and actions that build up, or we can store up for ourselves weapons that tear down—and what we store up in our hearts will also spill over into our lives and to those around us.

In each of our lives we will experience different forms of conflict and crisis. This is part of the human experience. When we do experience it, however, what have we prepared in our hearts? Is it tools to help mend the brokenhearted? Or weapons that have no function outside of self-interest? It does not take much effort to respond selfishly or defensively.

kevin_wiebe
Kevin Wiebe

The challenge—and the goal—is to respond in a redemptive manner that seeks not to condemn, but to bring life.

Kevin Wiebe is the pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship (Stevenson, Ont.) and a member of the EMC Board of Church Ministries. He has a BA (Communications and Media) from Providence University College. His six-lesson video study on Povology (poverty, theology, Church, and you) is available for free download and use by EMC churches.

Richard Krahn: Communion, Jesus Changed the Covenant

by Richard Krahn

In Matthew 26 the disciples followed Jesus’ instruction and prepared the Passover meal. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matt. 26:26-28 NIV).

Covenant

It is easy for me to skim over what Jesus was saying and doing here because I have grown up hearing, reading, and thinking about Jesus’ new covenant, looking at life and relationship with God in terms of Jesus. Yet Jesus was making a change here. Jesus was introducing a brand new way.

Covenant. The term is obscure, theological, legal, vaguely theoretical, probably a bit technical. It leaves an impression that someone very well paid and wearing suit and tie to work came up with it. Perhaps it’s too formal for T-shirts and diesel fuel.

Covenant. A defined relationship offered and accepted unconditionally, without an expiry date.

Covenant. God made covenants with people throughout Old Testament history. He made humankind for relationship, and covenants were relationship.

Ancient World

People knew covenant in the ancient world. Powerful kings offered covenants to lesser kings. The terms were set by the powerful king. Typically, “I could wipe you out, but, instead, let’s make it easier for both of us. Serve me and I will protect you.” Negotiations by the lesser were simple, really, consisting of either “I accept” or “Over my dead body.”

Israel knew covenant. Yahweh had made covenant all along, from Noah to Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Moses to Solomon. The terms were simple, really. “I am God. Your only God. I will make you great, because you are precious to me. Serve me wholeheartedly. Fail to do so at your peril.”

Failure

Israel knew failure. Personally, nationally, historically, persistently, Israel knew failure. Israel knew the terms of the covenant and failed to keep them. The covenant, often renewed by God with a new generation, anticipated failure. Failure is very nearly as old as humankind. Yahweh anticipated failure; he called it sin.

Passover

Jesus and the disciples were observing Passover, an annual 1,500-year-old symbolic observance of covenant between Yaweh and Israel. The covenant meant freedom from slavery at a cost of a lamb and its lifeblood. Blood was the covenant’s price for failure to be overlooked and death avoided. Sacrificial blood always accompanied the covenant ceremonies of repentance from sin. Every year a new offering was given for the sins of the past to be overlooked.

Change

Jesus was now changing the covenant—an unthinkable thought for anyone but the Son of the God who had written the original. No more blood of year-old livestock. No more overlooking sin.

The old covenant had done its job. It had fully made the point that it is not possible for sinful humans like you and me to live up to the terms of a holy God who loves us. Every avenue, every possible variation, had been shown futile. The time was finally right for God’s ultimate solution to sin.

Jesus had been identified as the Lamb of God by the last Old Covenant prophet, John the Baptist. Jesus was about to give himself as the covenant sacrifice.

The blood price was being paid not at the expense of the sinner, but at the expense of the one being sinned against. Not for an annual reminder of failure, but as a once-for-all redemption.

The new covenant terms no longer defined what to live up to in order to receive the covenant benefits, or how to acknowledge sin with an annual observance. Now the covenant was to be forgiveness.

Sin finally dealt with and wiped away completely. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense—GRACE. It had, of course, been grace all along. If it hadn’t been grace then Adam and Eve wouldn’t have made it a day past the fig leaf fiasco.

Now, though, God’s ultimate plan was being revealed. Jesus was rolling out the new release. Not with a list written in stone, not with shock and awe or a miraculous dream or national ceremony, but with a meal.

Bread and Wine

A meal shared meant more than just another sandwich time. It was a relationship offered. A meal shared with another was an expression of a deep friendship.

Zacchaeus had known this; Jesus had invited himself to dinner. Zacchaeus had fairly tripped over himself to get cooking; offers of deep friendship, apparently, did not often come to the local tax collector.

The new covenant Jesus offers is not a standard of approved conduct by which to gain right standing with God. The new covenant Jesus offers is: “Share this meal with me. In fact, I want to share my own self with you.”

I offer you deep friendship. I don’t offer you my groceries; I offer you myself. This is my body. Take. Eat.

Jesus invites you to his table; he invites you to finally relax in his presence and enjoy the life that only he can offer. This is the covenant of old truly fulfilled.   The negotiations are simple, really. Is there any reason not to accept the terms as offered? To accept means to acknowledge that I, you—indeed, we together—depend utterly on Jesus as the only possible solution to our sin. To accept means I acknowledge my sin. I accept forgiveness, and choose to enter the deep friendship that is offered.

The bread offered is not a cheap friendship. We enter into a communion with the Father through the Son. The Passover meal wouldn’t let the covenant people forget the release that they had been given or the cost of being passed over by death.

richard-krahn
Richard Krahn

This Lord’s Supper, this Communion, won’t either let us forget the release that has been given us, or the cost of being passed over by death. It is no longer a symbolic sacrifice of prime livelihood, but a remembrance of the blood and body of our Saviour who willingly and freely gave his life for yours and mine.

Richard Krahn is the congregational chair of Westpointe Community Church in Grande Prairie, Alta. He holds a BRS from SBC and is a certified journeyman in the flooring trade. This is based on a sermon presented at WCC.

 

Dr. Harvey Plett: Believer’s Baptism, Stay With What the Bible Teaches!

by Dr. Harvey Plett

As we celebrate the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation there is much to celebrate. One of the things to celebrate is the rediscovery of believer’s baptism.

Apostolic Church Baptism

Water baptism was practiced in the Church from its beginning. Peter’s Pentecost message ended by saying, “Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Some 3,000 responded in faith and were baptized and added to the Church that day.

This is what is called believer’s baptism. That is, when you decide to become a Christian you, in obedience to the teaching of the Bible, follow it up with water baptism and thereby become a member of the Church, Christ’s body.

Matthew 28:18-20 tells the Church to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and then teach them all that God has commanded. Those who believe are to be baptized. Scholars are in essential agreement that apostolic baptism was believer’s baptism (Luther, Babylonian Captivity of the Church).

Infant Baptism

An occasional infant baptism appears to have happened in the second century. But after the third century it became the practice of the Church. Prior to the Reformation, to refuse infant baptism was subject to state oppression, even execution.

Martin Luther, in the early 16th century, was struggling with his faith and through study of the Bible discovered the words, “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). Out of that came what we call the Reformation. Luther’s emphasis on faith and the Bible began to influence the church scene and ultimately the Lutheran Church emerged.

Luther retained infant baptism partially because he felt if he went to believer’s baptism his work would be annihilated. He, however, modified the sacrament somewhat. For the Catholic Church water baptism is used by God to remove original sin. For Luther the grace of God works alongside the water to do that.

The Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, and the Lutheran Church subscribe to this kind of sacramental baptism. A sacrament is a ceremony that if done right conveys God’s grace to the individual.

The Reformed Church, the outgrowth of John Calvin’s work, practises infant baptism, but does it in a Covenantal Theological system. They say that baptism is the sign of the New Covenant and replaces circumcision.

As circumcision was done to infant boys and was the sign of the Old Covenant, so now baptism is the sign of the New Covenant in Christ. One change is that now both male and female infants, of Christian parents, are baptized, indicating they are members of the New Covenant people.

In infant-baptizing churches, baptism is followed up with confirmation when the person has reached the age of accountability. At confirmation the individual makes the faith, vicariously believed for him by a godparent or sponsor at baptism, his or her own.

Churches who practise this covenantal concept of baptism include the Reformed Church, the Methodists, Presbyterians, and the Covenant Church.

There are some church groups that don’t practice water baptism. This includes the Quakers and the Salvation Army. It is also of interest to note that Karl Barth, a key theologian, switched to believer’s baptism due to his study of the Bible. Friedrich Schleiermacher, a German theologian (d. 1834), said to read children into the family baptisms in Acts is putting something there that is not there.

Believer’s Baptism

At the time of the Reformation another movement emerged that did not accept infant baptism as a valid baptism. Through serious Bible study, this group, known as the Anabaptists, understood the Scriptures to teach believer’s baptism. With this understanding of baptism they refused sacramental or covenantal infant baptism because they didn’t find it in the Bible.

They understood the Scripture to teach believer’s baptism; that is, only those who personally understood the gospel and accepted it should be baptized. Many who had been baptized as infants asked for baptism based on their faith and thereby joined the Church. This is where the name Anabaptist comes from. They were accused of being re-baptized, but they responded and said their infant baptism was not a baptism because it did not involve the faith of the one being baptized.

Their refusal to accept infant baptism, as well as refusing to have their infants baptized, resulted in severe opposition and persecution. They persisted and the Anabaptists emerged as a significant branch of the Church, still active and alive today. The Anabaptists claimed they were going back to what the Bible teaches. They insisted that believer’s baptism ruled out covenantal or sacramental infant baptism. It also ruled out child baptism.

In support of rejecting infant and child baptism they quoted Matt. 19:14 where Jesus says, “Do not hinder children from coming to me for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” They said children are innocent and saved until they reach the age of accountability. They said the Bible teaches that children are to be nurtured and taught the love of God; and then as they grow and understand they will respond, and when they reach accountability they will know how to respond and ask for baptism when they reach the age of accountability (Eph. 6:4).

Continued Commitment

We need to celebrate the Reformation by a continued commitment to do what the Bible teaches. As we celebrate 500 years of back to the Bible freedom, we, as a people who believe the Bible teaches believer’s baptism, rejoice that children are innocent and saved until they reach the age of accountability. Being nurtured in the teaching of the Word and accepting it as they grow up, they will then be able to ask for baptism.

The issue we face is, does the Bible teach believer’s baptism? To answer this question we need to go back to the Bible. We do not find sacramental baptism in Scripture, and we also do not find the idea that baptism has replaced circumcision.

I suggest we respond by rejoicing for what the Anabaptists found and practiced back in the 16th century, examine it biblically, and take what the Bible teaches. We affirm believer’s baptism even if it is uncomfortable. If that is what the Bible teaches, that is what we want to do.

This does not mean we reject fellowship with churches that practice infant baptism, but we do not accept their practice of infant baptism because we believe it is not supported in Scripture nor is it a baptism based on personal faith. We stand for and commit ourselves to what the Bible teaches.

We also need to do a diligent study on the role of children and the church. Our Anabaptist forebears found no basis for sacramental or covenantal infant baptism. As already noted, they believed the Scriptures teach that children are safe in the kingdom until the age of accountability when they decide to continue in the faith or leave it (Pilgram Marpeck; Schleitheim Confession).

Dr. Harvey Plett
Dr. Harvey Plett

As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation we rejoice in the testimony of our forebears and commit ourselves to be true to the study and teaching of the Bible and its teaching on baptism as our Anabaptist forebears did.

Dr. Harvey Plett (BA, MA, MDiv, PhD) has served as president of Steinbach Bible College and as EMC moderator; he is a long-serving minister at Prairie Rose EMC. He continues to do some teaching, preaching, counselling, and writing. He and his wife Pearl live in Mitchell, Man., and celebrated 58 years of blessed marriage on Aug. 22, 2016.

 

Council approves budget and ponders wider relationships

by Terry M. Smith

ROSENORT, Man.—Conference council delegates on Nov. 26, 2016, approved a budget of $1,950,000, and pondered both a report on a trip to Israel/Palestine and relationships with other affiliate organizations.

Welcome and Devotional

Moderator Abe Bergen welcomed delegates. Ward Parkinson, pastor of host Rosenort EMC,  focused on the beatitudes of Matt. 5:1-12, saying the Church has “strange currency” in rejoicing over mourning and meekness. Christ’s kingdom is not a matter of celestial distance, but of values. Keep listening to a different drumbeat. As Mother Theresa said, we must never fear to be a sign of contradiction to the world. Let’s find our identity in nothing but Christ and his drumbeat. There is the blessing of God, he said.

Board of Church Ministries

Jessica Wichers, BCM chair, said that the board is actively working to provide a Balanced Digital format in early 2017. Readers can check out The Messenger’s new digital format at ISSUU.com. There will be six print and six website issues in 2017, though the board desires to return to 12 print issues at some point.

Kevin Wiebe, BCM member and pastor of New Life, introduced Povology, a six-part video series created by him about “poverty and the church, intended for small group studies.” It is officially approved by the EMC and is free to stream or download at http://www.povology.com. It features interviews with Shane Claiborne, Dr. Ron Sider, Bruxy Cavey, Dr. Ray Vander Zaag, missionaries, professors, and EMC pastors. Responding to the presentation, moderator Abe Bergen told Kevin, “You rock!”

Kim Muehling introduced the newly formed Worship Committee, which will engage in theological investigation and identify practical resources to be shared. It has no desire to be an echo chamber, she said.

Steinbach Bible College

Professor Gord Penner said a high percentage of graduates are volunteering in church life, giving, recommending the college, and satisfied by their experiences within it. New are an online BA, a BA in Marketplace Ministry, an Activate Discipleship School. Take a course, be grounded in the faith, and go back to serve, he said. Abe Bergen told delegates that Gord Penner is the EMC’s 2017 convention speaker.

Board of Missions

Ken Zacharias, foreign secretary, said he and BOM chair Fred Buhler recently visited missionaries and ministries in Paraguay. Some workers retire, but continue to minister. He and Fred were with Judy and Dave Schmidt when they received news of Judy’s having cancer. Schmidts are grateful for prayer, and Ken asked that they be upheld in prayer.

The Mingu Gauzu team carries on. Tres Palmas, with about 40 to 50 people in attendance, has many ministries: in Ste. Teresa; in radio, counseling and addiction ministries; a village outreach; a school open to German-speaking Brazilians; a hospital open to all; and school and camp ministry.

Darren Plett (Pleasant Valley) was part of a prayer team to Guadalajara, Mexico, and spoke of being deeply affected by the missionaries’ commitment and contacts. The church plant is a cell group model focused on upper middle class people who will later reach people of a lower economic class. The cell groups occasionally meet. If you believe prayer makes a difference, go on a prayer team, Plett said. Tim Dyck said a $500 subsidy is available for pastors who visit missionaries.

Moderator Abe Bergen and Tim Dyck, general secretary, visited cross-cultural workers in sensitive areas. Pray for these and other workers. Beth Koehler is the new volunteer prayer coordinator for EMC Missions. The Day of Prayer for EMC Missions is Feb. 19, 2017. Lester Olfert promoted the 2017 50th anniversary celebration tour in Nicaragua (April 4-11, 2017), inviting people to attend.

MCC Canada

Executive director Don Peters said that the scope of MCC’s work is worldwide, with $73.2 million of expenses last year (MCC Canada and U.S. combined) in 54 countries.  MCC’s work is done in the name of Christ on “your behalf,” he said. The Nigerian school girls kidnapped two years ago were connected with the Church of the Brethren, part of the Anabaptist family, he said.

Highlights of Meeting

Delegates were encouraged to report to their churches in these areas:

The Messenger moving to mixed print/digital format beginning in January

Newly released video study series on Povology (www.povology.com)

BCM has restarted the worship committee to serve our churches

New options coming to SBC (online BA, Marketplace Ministry BA,

Activate Discipleship School)

Nicaragua Exposure Trip to celebrate 50th anniversary

EMC Day of Prayer moved to Feb. 19

Report on Israel/Palestine

Survey will be sent to churches on role of women in leadership

Survey for assisting in reimagining Convention

Treasurers’ Day Jan. 21 at St Vital EMC

Statement of Faith Review nearing completion

Celebrating World Fellowship, Sunday, Jan. 22

– Erica Fehr

Israel/Palestine Trip

Abe Bergen and Tim Dyck reporting on being part of MCC’s learning tour in Israel. Canada and the U.S. are western allies of Israel. The Church has been in Israel from the start. While some people are concerned about MCC’s perspective, MCC is “pro church” in Israel, not pro-Palestinian, they said.

MCC’s work is well-respected by the Church in Israel. They told stories: a Palestinian Christian vineyard owner refuses to sell his land or treat those who oppose him as enemies; of a young boy’s being killed by a sniper; of an MCC Grow Project; and of how Jordan accepts many refugees. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and he died to bring peace between peoples (Eph. 2). Pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps. 122:1). Bergen and Dyck are willing to dialogue regarding the situation in Israel.

General Board

The Reimagining Committee has started its work, it was said. The Conference Restructuring Committee has met three times. The role of women in ministry issue will be picked up. Stephanie Unger, on the Reimagining Committee, said it wants convention to be open to everyone. There’s a need to find out why people aren’t coming and what they want to see. A survey has been developed; people are encouraged to invite non-attenders to complete it.

Abundance Canada

Harold Penner, stewardship consultant, said Abundance Canada changed its name from Mennonite Foundation of Canada because “God is generous; God owns, we manage; God invites us to give our whole selves; God invites us to share.” People felt the name was exclusive and being a foundation seemed too restrictive. The same services will be offered.

Board of Trustees

Tim Dyck  reported that the salaries of Executive and Administrative staff are under review. The Manitoba Pension Committee is reviewing the EMC Pension Plan. The phone system is being upgraded. Jan. 21 will be an EMC Treasurers’ Day.

The EMC budget proposed for 2017 is five percent higher than 2016 (from $1,868, 000 to $1,950,000). Only a three percent increase is asked of churches; the remainder comes from an increase in estate giving. One church said it was voting against the budget. Delegates voted in favour of the budget.

Board of Leadership and Outreach

Vice chair Alvin Plett said that Ralph Unger was asked to serve as interim conference pastor as the search continues. Unger reported that the Statement of Faith review saw all articles, except one, receive strong support. Footwashing received 75 percent support to move it to Church Practices. The process will be completed in 2017. A church mediators training session will occur on Feb. 18, and a New Leaders’ Orientation held on March 18-19 (following SBC’s Leadership Conference).

Charles Koop, church planting coordinator, said that a pastor has been found for Living Faith Fellowship, Two Hills, Alta. (John Froese); there is a need for more workers; immigrants are coming because they want more opportunity; a Chinese church is asking about membership in the EMC; and little is happening within Caucasian European circles. The Dauphin ministry is being assessed, a partnership with C2C will assist in church planting, and additional funds are being sought for church plants. We want more people to come to faith in Jesus, he said.

Mennonite World Conference

Layton Friesen, EMC representative, said his awareness of the wider Anabaptist church was strengthened through attending MWC’s gatherings in Winnipeg in 1991, Paraguay in 2007, and Pennsylvania in 2015. The next General Assembly is in Indonesia in 2021.

There are four commissions: Deacons (looking for churches in distress), Peace (trying to love enemies), Faith and Life (theology), and Mission (outreach). A name change has been floated. According to MWC, based on numbers and location, the EMC is asked to contribute $22,000 to its global fund; it gives $7,000.

He asked if a global connection is important to your congregation, if it is wanted; and, if so, how to do it. He invited churches to make MWC Fellowship Sunday an event each year. Suggestions are available on sermons, songs, liturgies, and prayer. An offering, equal to the cost of one lunch, could be forwarded.

Format

In a change, delegates met around small tables, discussed questions provided about boards and affiliate organizations, a recorder made written notes later handed in, and some of groups’ thoughts were shared publicly. It was generally well received.

Blessing to Churches

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Toward the end of the day, national staff members spoke of the privilege, encouragement, and blessing that comes from serving the EMC. Specific encouragements were listed (see sidebar). They ended by saying,  “We don’t take your support for granted. We want to continue to earn your trust, and serve the EMC churches to the best of our ability. We thank you and bless you for your continued support.”

Blessing from National Staff to Churches

As your national staff, we often reflect on what a great privilege it is for us to be serving all of our EMC churches through the ministries of our Conference. We sense the encouragement and the blessings of you, our EMC churches, as we engage in our daily activities. Some of the specific ways that you have encouraged us over the course of this past year include:

Your demonstrations of interest by asking relevant questions. Sometimes the questions are easy to answer and sometimes they are hard questions. But always, they are encouraging.

Your prayers on our behalf. We appreciate that you take the time to tell us that you are praying for us in our roles.

Your enthusiasm and service for missions. One church requested the contact information for all EMC missionaries so that they could send a personalized Christmas card to each.

Another church has been connecting with every missionary that is on home furlough, inviting them to report on Sunday mornings. This is a tremendous encouragement to us as well as to the missionaries.

Your invitations to serve in your churches through meetings, Sunday School presentations, or Sunday worship services. It is always encouraging to know that you are interested in the things that we are excited about.

Special thanks to the woman who routinely brings “snacks” to the EMC office.

Your enthusiasm for Christian education in many forms – through Conference produced materials, retreats, and beyond.

Your responses to the many surveys that we have sent to churches over this past year.

You send high quality volunteers to serve on the many boards and committees of the EMC. They serve with little recognition and without pay.

Your commitment to gathering for discussion, decision making and developing friendships.

You open up your churches to events such as this Conference Council gathering, and you serve joyfully and graciously.

Of course, you send funds on a regular basis to ensure that the ministries continue to function.

We don’t take your support for granted. We want to continue to earn your trust, and serve the EMC churches to the best of our ability. We thank you and bless you for your continued support.

Proposed Statement of Faith receives high support

by Terry M. Smith

ROSENORT, Man.—The EMC’s ministerial voted on Nov. 26, 2016, in strong support of the revised draft Statement of Faith; heard reflections in suffering by David Funk; and ended with a time of prayer.

Opening

Ministerial members were welcomed by host pastor Brian McGuffin (RFC), who led in a devotional based on Psalm 27:1-4. Our response to fear is to place our hope in someone who is not fleeting, Jesus Christ, he said. We need to keep our core identity in Christ and serve him whatever happens.

Outline of History

Alvin Plett, vice chair of the Board of Leadership and Outreach (BLO), outlined the lengthy process of consulting churches that led to this moment: churches studied the 1996 Statement of Faith and responded with revisions; in early 2016 a first draft of a revised edition was sent to churches and they studied it; in July 2016 comments were recorded and a second draft was later sent to churches.

Churches were invited to read their responses to the second draft, and the committee was to respond to clarify matters. On who could vote, the constitution’s wording was somewhat ambiguous, Plett said, but to restrict it to processed leaders would not allow some churches to vote. The BLO decided that churches should decide who could vote on their behalf.

If an article in the proposed statement received support of 80 percent or more, it is finished, he said; if less than that, further revision was needed. The desire is that the statement will be written in such a way to work together. 

Churches Respond

Fourteen churches provided written responses. Depending on their length, responses by up to three churches were read at one time.

The themes that emerged were an appreciation for the committee’s work, support for the revised statement, and suggestions on changes. Dr. Darryl Klassen (Kleefeld), chair of the Statement of Faith Review Committee, and committee members Ward Parkinson (Rosenort EMC) and Henry Friesen (ConneXion) listened to responses and provided clarifications.

When one church, Steinbach EFC, responded with lengthy suggestions, these were considered useful, but better to have been received earlier and difficult to incorporate at this stage.

One minister asked, is this the final vote? If an article receives 80 percent support, it is, the vice chair responded; beyond that, options exist. Tim Dyck, General Secretary, clarified that because the Statement of Faith is part of the EMC’s constitution, the conference council oversees any change to the constitution. The Constitution requires a gap of time between churches being notified of a proposed constitutional change and the vote for change. The revised Statement of Faith likely will not be approved till Nov. 2017, he said.

There was a time of prayer before voting. The ministerial was then asked to vote on each individual article and, additionally, on whether footwashing should be moved to the Church Practices section.

Ralph Unger

While the votes were being counted, Alvin Plett introduced Ralph Unger as the EMC’s interim part-time conference pastor. With 40 years of experience in pastoral ministry in and beyond the EMC, and service as EMC moderator, Unger brings a rich background. The search continues for a conference pastor, Plett said.

Ken Zacharias

Ken Zacharias, EMC Foreign Secretary, reported that he and Fred Buhler spent two and a half weeks visiting churches and leaders in Paraguay. Zacharias oversees EMC Missions’ work in Bolivia, Paraguay, Nicaragua, and Mexico. Buhler is the EMC Board of Missions chair, and has served as a missionary in Paraguay.

Prayer was requested for Judy and Dave Schmidt; Judy has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Ken said that ministries in Paraguay carry on, though they look a bit different after responsibilities were transferred to national workers.

Zacharias said that evangelicals form a small part of Paraguay’s population (five to seven percent), but he anticipates much growth in the next decade. One church has six outreach points, he said. Pray for the missions staff in Paraguay, who are doing well and are encouraged.

Charles Koop

Charles Koop, church planting coordinator, said that God is working overseas and in Canada. Why are we a conference? he asked. It is so more people become part of the Kingdom of God. The EMC is interested in urban church planting and has become a partner with the urban church-planting resource C2C.

He outlined some recent activities: a Chinese church is connected with Fort Garry EMC; an outreach is happening in Ste. Agathe, Man.; Living Faith Fellowship in Two Hills, Alta., has a pastoral couple; and the presence of immigrants is an opportunity for believers.

The Church Planting Task Force has two problems: the need for money and people to start a ministry. Kingdom building is what it’s all about. We hope to get in on what God is doing, Koop said.

Voting Results

The results of voting showed strong support for the proposed Statement of Faith. Only one article, on God the Spirit, received less than 80 percent; and 75 percent voted to move Footwashing to the Church Practices section. These two matters will be addressed. On the God the Spirit section, concerns had been expressed that it moved away from “He” language and did not explicitly mention gifts and fruits.

Belief Amid Suffering

David Funk (Fort Garry) was asked to present “A Theology of Suffering,” but he said that implies he has it figured out, which he doesn’t; but he could talk of Christian belief in the midst of suffering.

He and his wife Kendra have four children—Ethan, Abigail, Rachel, and Elijah—but only two are alive.

Rachel Amariah, when about 14 months old, died from congenital problems in 2011. What is it like to carry a baby that you know will die? Only a mother who has done so knows, he said. They decided to have another child. A few days after his birth in 2014, Elijah Cohen suffered mini-strokes; life supports were removed shortly afterward.

David has a deep respect for his wife Kendra. They have struggled with grief, trauma, guilt, and spiritual crisis. David said that the prayers of lament in Scripture allow his faith to survive.

Only through the Cross do we come to know God. The lament psalms are intended for public use, and teach us that the path to doxology is through the truth of what life is like. To exile lament is to exile those who suffer, he said.

In walking with those who suffer, be a humble learner. Their church’s absorbing some of the cost of their grief has allowed them to survive spiritually, emotionally, in marriage, and as a family. “Compassionate presence” allows a hurting person to be honest about their pain and to hurt our hearts too—beyond detached caring, he said.

The ministerial then gathered in the basement, discussing in small groups how to walk in suffering and with those who suffer.

Prayer Time

A time of prayer followed. Among the items shared were for the interim conference

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

pastor, the church in Brandon, a former conference pastor now older and in ill health, for the congregation at Two Hills, and for the ministries of Fort Garry and Rosenort EMC.About 4 p.m. Barry Plett (Blumenort) led in a prayer of blessing as the meeting ended.

Statement of Faith voting results

Articles

Yes

No

Percentage of 68 votes

The Bible

63

4

93%

God

62

5

91%

God the Father

64

3

94%

God the Son

61

6

90%

God the Spirit

52

14

76%

The Creation

58

9

85%

The Dignity of Human Beings

63

4

93%

The Fall of the Human Race

65

2

96%

Satan

67

0

99%

Salvation

55

12

81%

Discipleship

66

1

97%

The Life of Peace

61

6

90%

The Church

63

4

93%

The Ordinances

66

0

97%

Believer’s Water Baptism

65

2

96%

The Lord’s Supper

67

0

99%

Footwashing

59(87%)

3

51(75%)

The Resurrection

62

5

91%

The Return and Final Triumph of Christ

61

6

90%

Using the Apostles’ Creed in Worship

by Kimberly Muehling and Paul Walker

For the past year the EMC community has gathered through The Messenger to think about the Apostles’ Creed—a great time of grounding ourselves in the core beliefs of the Christian faith. Now, how can we use the Apostles’ Creed as a resource for our churches and apply it in our individual lives?

We need to do the hard work of applying what we learn to our lives. As James reminds us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says(James 1:22).

In this article you will hopefully find both inspiring and useful ideas, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Let us all know what you are doing in your churches!

Ideas for the Worship Service

Spoken Confession

Consider adding a congregational confession of the Apostles’ Creed to your worship service. Historically, many Christian churches have recited the Apostles’ Creed as a regular part of the weekly worship service. Other churches confess the Apostles’ Creed monthly, quarterly, or during a special service. We recommend finding a practice that works best for your local context.

Recitation during a service can be an effective way to notice the many different voices in your congregation. Instead of always reciting the Apostles’ Creed together, ask an individual, family, or group to recite it for the rest of the congregation. If you have multiple languages in your church, this would be a great time to hear them. Ask a child or a senior to share.

In Song

Another way of incorporating the Creed into a worship service is to sing it. There are a few versions of the Creed put to music such as This I believe (The Creed) by Hillsong and We Believe by the Newsboys.  There are a plethora of songs that encompass the various aspects of the Creed.  A service could be divided into sections, each with part of the creed recited and then sung. Alternatively, an entire series of services could be devoted to the Creed, each Sunday focusing on a section.

In Prayer

The Apostles’ Creed lends itself naturally to corporate prayer. As confessional prayer: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty. Father, we confess that we are disobedient children. Help us to trust You and lean on Your everlasting arms.” Or pastoral prayer: “Come again to judge the living and the dead. God, we pray that people would come to know You. We believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints. Father, we pray for the global church….” Silence and reflection between the Creed and corresponding prayer would be particularly useful.

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Ideas for Church Life

Sermon Series/ Curriculum

The earliest Anabaptists would frequently structure their teachings and discipleship efforts around the Apostles’ Creed. The Creed expressed and represented the essence of Christian faith and doctrine. It was not uncommon for many early Anabaptists to memorize the Apostles’ Creed by heart.

What if we returned to our historic roots and began to use the Apostles’ Creed as a resource once again for our churches? Pastors, are you looking for sermon material? Consider using the Apostles’ Creed for your next sermon series! It is a great resource for laying out the story, unity, coherence, and major themes of the Christian faith.

Sunday School teachers, why not spend twelve weeks unpacking each section of the Creed? A great resource for commentary would be our recent Messenger series. The magazine’s articles could be read out loud and then discussed in small groups in an older classroom setting.

Is your church planning a retreat weekend? The Apostles’ Creed could be a great resource for a weekend of study and reflection.

Art/ Prayer Room

Do you have a talented artist in your midst? Ask them to create a series of works (be it paintings, dance, song) around the Creed to share with the congregation in a service, around the church building, or on a special evening or weekend.

Art inspired by one or various sections of the Creed could be used in a prayer room to create stations for specific contemplation and worship. This is a great way to again encourage your less vocal congregants to get involved and share their gifts with the wider church body.

Teach the Children

Few things are as silly and delightful in church as children’s worship time. Teaching the Creed to our children is important in so many ways. Sunday School fills their heads with stories, but rarely are they taught the foundational truths of our faith in clear language. Speak it together, but also explain what it is we are saying. 

Teach your older elementary and teens the theological terms (i.e., theories of atonement) so that they can enjoy sounding impressive! We do not have a catechism, but the Creed can function in a similar way and help children to understand what we agree about amidst all that we so enjoy debating.

Make it fun! Who knew the Creed could be a rap? Or recited in a variety of silly voices? Have the children create art or skits to share with the congregation. It is so important that our children contribute to our regular church life.

Individual Walk

Bible Study

Putting the articles from the last year away; write your own. This could be done individually or in a small Bible study setting. Grab your Bible, a handy concordance (there are lots online), and get to work! What passages of Scripture back up the various parts of the Creed? What does God show us about Himself in these passages? “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Col. 3:16).

Memorization

God commanded the ancient Israelites to plant the Torah in both their hearts and their minds. Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut.11:18-20).

Even now, Christians in many parts of the world where the Bible is restricted still rely on memorizing great swaths of Scripture. Here in the West, we can pull up BibleGateway or grab Strong’s Concordance anytime we are looking for a verse, but that does not help God’s words to grow and bloom in our hearts.

While the Creed is not Scripture, it is useful to memorize as a guide to the Scriptures.  Go further and memorize verses to correspond to each section of the Creed.  If we are to be deeply rooted, we must put the words of God and the tenets of our faith not only on our laptops, but also in our hearts.

Closing Thoughts

The Apostles’ Creed is perfectly designed for use in a congregational worship setting. The early church would often confess the Apostles’ Creed together before receiving communion, administering baptism, or as a public act of worship. This helped the church articulate and confess the faith once delivered.

To confess the Creed together with fellow believers is more than just mindlessly reciting a list of dusty facts. It becomes an act of worship when it is connected to loving God with our heart, soul, mind, strength, and loving our neighbours as ourselves. A worshipful use of the Creed should connect to the deepest part of our being and the heart of the Almighty God.

kim-muehling
Kimberly Muehling

We, as the Worship Committee of the EMC, pray that the Apostles’ Creed will become a

great resource to help enrich your local church in the years to come!

Kimberly Muehling (Fort Garry) and Pastor Paul Walker (Roseisle) serve on the EMC Worship Committee under the authority of the Board of Church Ministries. Jessica Wichers (EFC Steinbach) is the committee’s third member.

Paul Walker
Paul Walker

Dr. Ed Neufeld: Jesus, Tempted Like Us

by Dr. Ed Neufeld

Temptation. Eve wanted the fruit; it was a delight to the eyes and desirable, and so she ate it. Raging Cain wanted to kill his brother and, in spite of God’s warning, he did so. The infuriating herders twice took wells that Isaac dug, but instead of quarrelling he moved again and dug a third well.

Young Joseph must have wanted Potiphar’s wife, but ran away. Eve and Cain failed; Isaac and Joseph did well. Either way, these Genesis stories make sense to us. Did Jesus get it in the same way we do? Yes, according to Hebrews.

A Claim That Looks Back

We know that the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness, at the beginning of his ministry, and we know that in Gethsemane it was a fight for Jesus to obey the Father and go to the cross. The stories assume that he was tempted as we are, that he could have sinned but he didn’t. He was sinless, but that claim always looks back on his life.

If Gospel writers understood Jesus to be tempted differently than the rest of us, would they not have said so? These stories describe normal human temptation, only Jesus kept choosing like Isaac and Joseph, not like Eve and Cain.

Perhaps we don’t want Jesus to experience temptation as we do, because in our minds this threatens his deity and perfect glory. By “in our minds” I mean “devout Christian logic.” But what happens when our devout Christian logic opposes clear biblical teaching? Hebrews 1:1-4 announces the glorious deity of the Son, yet Hebrews also claims that concerning temptation, Jesus was made just like us, tempted like us, and felt weak like us. The Scriptures praise Jesus because he was weak but did not sin, not because he was strong and could not sin.

Near the end of Hebrews 2 we read that in every way Jesus had to be made like his brothers and sisters, so he could be a merciful priest and make atonement for us. He suffered when he was tempted, so he could help others when they are tempted. This is about motivation, about sympathy.

Jesus had to be made like us in all ways, specifically in the matter of temptation, so he would be motivated to be the best possible high priest. This requires Jesus saying to himself something like this: “Temptation is fierce, worse than I thought. I had no idea. No wonder they sin. I’ve got to help them.” Later we’ll read that Jesus’ temptations made him sympathetic to us, which means Jesus had to be feeling and thinking something like this.

A High Priest With Sympathy

Near the end of Hebrews 4 the writer comes back to Jesus’ sympathy. Our high priest can sympathize with our weakness because he has been tempted in every way, just like us, yet did not sin. Three things are crucial. One, he’s been tempted in all ways, as we are tempted. Not only was he made like us in every way, he’s been tempted like us in every way.

Two, he was weak. Mark 1 says Jesus was tempted for 40 days, then angels came to help him. Imagine weak Jesus saying to them, “That was too close. I would not have lasted two more days without sinning.” Three, sympathy for us because he knows about our weakness in temptation.

In Hebrews 5:2 the writer says that every high priest can deal gently with the ignorant and wandering, since the priest himself has weaknesses. A few verses later he deliberately includes Jesus in this. Since Jesus did not sin, we assume strength in the face of temptation, but Hebrews will have none of that. When Joseph fled Potiphar’s wife, did he feel strong? Probably not. Neither did Jesus.

A Brief Theological Detour

What about our sinful nature, our fallen nature? Did Jesus have that? Theologians debate about what fallen nature means exactly, and we will ignore that debate. Humans, left to their own nature, all join in the rebellion against God, and invariably need redemption. Let us leave it at that. I was taught that Jesus was born of a virgin to escape our fallen nature, but the virgin birth stories make no such claim, nor does any other New Testament text.

Following some of the early church fathers, T. F. Torrance holds that Jesus had the same fallen nature we all havehe had to assume it in order to redeem it. This violates my particular church tradition, but lines up nicely with how the NT describes Jesus’ temptations.

If Jesus had a different human nature than we do, then either (1) the writer of Hebrews had no knowledge of this, or (2) he deliberately misled us. Neither explanation is acceptable. Hebrews says Jesus was made like us and tempted like us, period. Yet I affirm, as did the church fathers, that Jesus was sinless.

Knows Weakness?

Could Jesus know weakness if he never sinned? James 3 says we all sin in many ways, and I am decidedly in that camp. But sometimes I do not sin. I have had strong temptations where I was close to sinning, closer to “yes” than “no,” but before I could say “yes” the temptation went away. Afterward I felt not proud or strong, but weak and frightened. “How did I get so close?” If Hebrews is true (and it is), this must also have happened to Jesus.

I have decided to do something that would almost certainly have produced sin, and begun to act, and then circumstances blocked me, my car wouldn’t start or the phone rang. Later I wondered, “What was I thinking? How could I have been so foolish?” Jesus, too?

I have at different times lived with the same temptation almost daily for many weeks and months on end. I was determined not to sin, and did not. But it was tiring and discouraging because this vile thing pulled at me and distracted me every day. What was wrong with me, that I could not just walk away? I wished it would leave, but it didn’t. Jesus, too?   

I sin in many ways; I’m just telling you stories where I did not. You each have a collection of such stories. Jesus was made like us in all ways, tempted like us in all ways, yet never sinned. He was weak in these episodes, stretched and desperate, and feels sorry for us. Jesus has many stories like ours.

Approach God

In Hebrews this results in one clear call: Approach God. Don’t avoid God because of sin. Come boldly to the throne of grace. Draw near, enter, come close, because of Jesus the Priest.

The worst thing we can do is stay away from God. When we stand before him, ignorant and misguided, weak and sinful, the Great Priest stands beside us and says: “Father, I was too close to this myself. Many times. It is a horrible fight. No wonder they sin. Remember my sacrifice. I ask mercy and helping grace for this child.”

The Father, with love for the Son and for us, says to us: “I’m pleased you came. I will help.

ed_neufeld1
Dr. Ed Neufeld

Stay awhile, or go in peace with my mercy and grace.”

Dr. Ed Neufeld is a professor of biblical studies at Providence Theological Seminary and pastor of Kleefeld Christian Community, a part of the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada. He is also the speaker at SBC’s Leadership Conference on March 17-18, 2017.

Terry Smith: Our Reformation Heritage, Protestant and Radical

by Terry M. Smith

The Protestant Reformers and the Radical Reformation sought to reform the sixteenth-century Christian Church in Europe and then, when it could not be changed to their satisfaction, to re-establish the Church by a return to first century truths.

Dr. Harold S. Bender defined The Anabaptist Vision as discipleship, community, and the way of peace, but he knew more than this was believed. He said that Mennonites “stood on a platform of conservative evangelicalism in theology, being thoroughly orthodox in the great fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith….”

Protestant Reformation

Before we discuss Anabaptist distinctives,  let’s consider our common Protestant Reformation heritage. Here are some key figures and their teachings.

Peter Waldo (ca. 1140-1205) in France spoke against transubstantiation and purgatory. He promoted simplicity, poverty, universal priesthood, lay preaching, and preaching in the common tongue. He oversaw the translation of the New Testament into Arpitan.

John Wycliffe (ca. 1328-1384) in England spoke against wealth of the church and papal interference in political life. The Scriptures are the only law of the Church. The Church is centred in people, not in the Pope and cardinals. Scripture is to be in people’s common language. He translated the New Testament into English.

John Huss (ca. 1373-1415) of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) said the true head of Church is Christ, not the Pope. Our law is the New Testament. Life is to be Christ-like poverty. The Pope has no right to use physical force. Money payments gain no true forgiveness. The cup is to be administered to the laity.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) of Germany said salvation is a free gift based on the God’s grace received by faith and from this obedience flows. Our final appeal is the Scriptures. All believers are priests. Marriage of clergy is permitted. The Lord’s Supper is no sacrifice to God. Pilgrimages are worthless as human efforts of merit.  He translated the Bible into German.

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) in Switzerland said that the Scriptures are the sole authority of faith and practice. The death of Christ is the only price of forgiveness. Only the Bible is binding on Christians. Salvation is by faith. The mass is not a sacrifice. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial, not a sacrament. Christ is the sole head of Church.

John Calvin (1509-1564) of France and Switzerland said the mass empties the death of Christ of its virtue. The traffic in masses must stop. There should be no worship of images. Indulgences are disloyal to the cross of Christ. All obedience is to be tested against the Word. The Protestant Church is a renewal of the ancient Church.

The Five Onlys

Summarized, we have the Five Onlys (Solas):

Scripture Only! (Sola Scriptura!)

Faith Only! (Sola Fide!)

Grace Only! (Sola Gratia!)

Christ Only! (Sola Christus!)

God’s Glory Only! (Sola Deo Gloria!)

The Radical Reformation

On Jan. 17, 1525, the Protestant reform in Zurich was slowed by Zwingli’s bowing to the pace of the city-state’s council. The council ordered that children were to be brought forward to be baptized or their parents would be banished from the city-state. In rejection of this decree, on Jan. 21, 1525, the first believer baptisms took place at the home of Felix Manz.

Anabaptist Distinctives

In addition to many of the above views, the early Anabaptists held key beliefs. While they might not appear unique today, some were at the time.

Believer Baptism – Baptism is upon a person’s confession of faith. It’s an act of visible commitment, of community, of open identification with Christ and his Church.

Believers Church Membership – The Church is composed of converts. The Church is a voluntary, visible community. Some Reformers, being uncertain of who were true believers, spoke of the invisible Church. Anabaptists emphasized the visible Church, the need to live our faith together with other believers.

Discipleship – Genuine faith in Christ follows. Discipleship is a sign of being a Christian, of salvation. Faith in Christ is to be an active faith. Discipleship is faith in action.

Covenant Community — The Church is to display koinonia,”that which is held in common.” It is a shared life. Discipleship is to be lived together. This is Christ’s intention in recreating humanity together.

Christ, the Centre of Scripture – The Bible is to be interpreted and applied through the coming and teaching of Christ, its centre.  For instance, the wars in the Old Testament are to be interpreted through Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.

Priesthood of all Believers – There is one mediator between God and man, Christ (1 Tim. 2:5). Gone are the intercessions of Mary and of saints, the mediating powers of the priest and Pope. Access to Christ is direct, without human intercession (Heb. 4:14-16). There’s a rediscovery of the laity, the people of God, who have a common task and dignity.

Separation of Church and State – The Church is not to use the state to enforce beliefs and to limit reform. The state is not to dictate to the Church what it can believe and practice.

Religious Toleration – People with wrong beliefs are not to be killed, but allowed to live. Anabaptists were not the only early voice for religious freedom (toleration), but they were a major one.

Non-violence – The Church is to challenge an uncritical view of the state and its use of force. Most early Anabaptists objected to a Christian being a soldier, a police officer, to personal defense, to war, to being a judge or an executioner.  They held that Christians are to flee, persuade, or die, but not to fight.

Non-swearing of Oaths – Loyalty is to be given ultimately to Christ. They rejected swearing an oath of obedience to the state, which upset the authorities. In a narrower sense, Christ forbids the swearing of oaths (Matt. 5:33-37; James 5:12), while calling Christians to truth telling in court and elsewhere. This is called integrity of speech.

Separation from the World – In the 16th century, non-conformity was based on an understanding of Christ and what it meant to follow him. It wasn’t decided by ethnic culture, language, dress (other than modesty), or food. It was reflected in beliefs, values, and actions.

Church Discipline – Discipline is a part of discipleship and of the shared life. Opposed to deadly forms of discipline, Anabaptists were devoted to discipline within regular congregational life. They influenced magisterial Protestant Reformers (the ones supported by the state) in this.

Great Commission – Evangelism and missions remain a task for the current generation. They emphasized this more than most Protestant Reformers. When Anabaptist leaders gathered in Augsburg in 1527, they divided Europe into fields for evangelism. Hutterian missioners went out in pairs; many were killed for their efforts.

Anything in Common?

Dr. Alfred Neufeld, a leader within the Mennonite World Conference, asks, “After 500 years it is time for us to ask the challenging question: Do we still have anything in common with the founding mothers and fathers of the Anabaptist church? Should we? Can we?”

For what is the Anabaptist-Mennonite Church known in Canada? Being a Christian is to be

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

shown in action, not a claim apart from how we live. If a Scripture-centred focus in life is learned from 16th-century Anabaptists-Mennonites, our response is revealed by what we do.

Terry M. Smith is executive secretary to the Board of Church Ministries. The Messenger will explore, as a BCM project, the Protestant (Radical) Reformation through 2017.  The project coincides with the start of Review 2027, Mennonite World Conference’s decade-long study of the Radical Reformation, which is indebted to the wider Reformation.

Resources

Bainton, R. H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Mentor, 1950.

Dyck, C. J., ed. An Introduction to Mennonite History. Herald Press, third ed., 1993.

Fosdick, H. E. Great Voices of the Reformation: an Anthology. Random House, 1952.

Hillerbrand, H. J., ed. The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants. Baker, reprinted 1987.

Loewen, H. and S. M. Nolt. Through Fire and Water: An Overview of Mennonite History. Herald Press, rev. 2010.

Mennonite World Conference. Shared Convictions (MWC, 2006). Note: This statement was later adopted by MCC.

[Sattler, Michael.] The Schleitheim Confession. Herald Press, 1977.

Verduin, L. The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. Eerdmans, 1964.

Dylan Barkman: As We Gather For Life-Changing Experiences

by Pastor Dylan Barkman

Convention 2016

Please open your Bible and refer to Rev. 3:14-22 to the Church in Laodicea. Notice that in verse 14, this “evaluation” or “report card” is not written to unbelievers; it is written to the Church, arguably a group of people that already ought to be “advancing Christ’s kingdom culture”!

In verses 15-16 Jesus judges their deeds as “lukewarm” and as a result is about to spit them out of His mouth!

Lukewarm

Consider what “lukewarm” refers to in terms of a hot tub. We naturally consider the water to be hot. However, hot water is 100oC and cold water is 1C.  We enjoy sitting in water around 38ƒ, which is “lukewarm” in comparison to hot or cold water. The effect of this “lukewarm” water puts us in a place where we are content, relaxed, exert little effort, want for nothing, and desire to stay that way forever, nearly asleep.

This attitude in the Church infuriates Jesus (the Ultimate Judge, 1 Tim. 4:1), who is about to “spit them out” as a result.

Jesus quotes them as saying, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” They were wealthy and tempted to look to their wealth as their source of strength.  Like them, we are likely the richest generation of Christians to date, proved by our abundance of “toys” and “wants.” And whether we admit it or not, we take pride in our wealth even as a conference.   

In verses 17-18 Jesus says, “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

We will understand what “the gold refined in the fire” is once we see the five steps Jesus lays out for us.

Repent!

The first step is “be earnest and repent.” Because this letter is written to the gathered church it begs the question, “Does your church, or the conference, have something in place where people can intentionally repent and deal with sin?” 

Truthfully, many churches assume people deal with all their sin on their own, when what typically happens is that we get really good at sweeping certain sins under the rug and still present ourselves as “good Christians” on Sunday morning. The weight of unconfessed sin just feels normal. Yikes!

Then in verse 20 Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

Remember Jesus is speaking to a movement of people that ought to be advancing His kingdom culture! However, the obvious question is, “What is Jesus doing outside of the door of the Church?”

To answer that question, consider the following diagram. The circle represents your life. In your life is a throne on which whatever is “Lord” or “King” of your life sits. Before receiving Christ, your life is ruled by “self” and Jesus is not part of your life. At the time when you accept Jesus as Lord of your life through faith, He becomes ruler of your life. He is truly Lord and King and you no longer are number one in your life. This is as it should be.

Frightfully, for the rest of our lives, unless we are intentional about keeping Jesus as Lord, our selfish tendencies kick in and we drift back onto the throne. Although Jesus is still in our lives, He no longer has true function as the actual Lord of our life. As Jesus’ own analogy goes, He is still nearby; however, He is on the wrong side of the door.

What is it that competes with Jesus as being the true Lord or King of our churches and our conference? It does not have to be obvious sins like pornography or alcoholism that replace Him as Lord. It can be subtle things like a focus on money, intellect, education or tradition. Ultimately anything at all, even good things, that replaces Him as the true King and Lord is rebellion against God and sinful.

Hear His Voice!

Jesus is the one who knows the correct answer to this question, which is why we need to listen to Him in prayer. In other words, we need to “hear His voice,” which according to verse 20 is step two.

If we do not follow through with step one “earnest repentance,” we will not make it to step two “hear His voice” (see Ezekiel 12:1-2). Rebellion against God (unconfessed sin) is the reason for not being able to hear even though we have ears to hear!

It should also be noted that just because Jesus is omnipresent, it doesn’t mean that hearing His voice is inescapable. Consider Elijah’s experience in 1 Kings 19:11-12. The Lord was not in inescapable things like the wind, earthquake or fire. Rather, the Lord came as a gentle whisper, which is easy to escape. In fact, one has to be intentional in order to hear it.

Open the Door

This leads us to the third step: “Open the door.” Like the Laodiceans, it is alarming that a barrier (the closed door) has come between us and Jesus. Something we have control over, like resistance to His Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63:10, Acts 7:51, Eph. 4:30, 1 Thess. 5:19) prevents us from experiencing the presence of Jesus.

We Open the Door

The Holy Spirit is God and convicts us of sin. He is gentle, good, gives good gifts, and is a deposit guaranteeing what is yet to come (2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5; Eph. 1:14). If we justify resisting the Holy Spirit, who lives inside us, we believe a lie. The truth is that everything that the Holy Spirit has for us is for our benefit, and, therefore, we should welcome Him with open arms.

Or as in the analogy of Jesus outside the door, in order for the fourth step (Jesus’ “coming in”) to occur, the responsibility lies with us to “open the door”! Jesus doesn’t force his way in.

Experience Intimacy

The fifth step is to experience a personal, intimate, two way communicative relationship with Jesus, as though you were sitting down to a meal of your choice with Him in person.  This is what it means to truly know Jesus, which is very different than just knowing about Jesus (Matt. 7:21-23)!

The presence of Jesus is the “gold refined in the fire” (v. 18) because it is the presence of Jesus that:

• We can only get from Jesus.

• Cannot be purchased with money, but will make us truly rich.

• When we experience it, it will take away our shame unlike clothes that only mask our shame.

• Will be far more satisfying than anything our fat bank accounts can ever buy because it will open our eyes to His truth.

• Is something that we can expect to be in Heaven! (And is actually what makes Heaven great anyway!)

The communication (prayer) that our churches and conference have with Jesus should reflect this kind of personal and real relationship with Him.

When we take these five steps, our conference will be victorious (vv. 21-22).

Dylan Barkman
Dylan Barkman

Dylan Barkman is the teaching pastor of Pansy Chapel in S.E. Manitoba. This article is adapted from his Convention 2016 message shared on Sunday morning, July 3.

David Thiessen: The Apostles’ Creed, Life Everlasting

by David Thiessen

The Apostles’ Creed Through 2016

I believe . . . in life everlasting.” The present Christian Church is waiting for the realization of our future hope, or are we?

The book of Habakkuk in the Old Testament Scriptures encourages us to be a people who wait. In Hab. 2:3 it says, “For the revelation waits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”

I believe the Lord is speaking to Habakkuk about “life everlasting.” It is arriving, but it has not arrived yet! So we wait.

How do we speak of something that is not here yet? Perhaps little, and certainly not in terms of rigid dogma. We should think and speak with some caution, seeking to keep an open mind. We need to continue a careful reading of Scripture and not jump to quick conclusions—especially since the conclusion is not here yet!

But “life everlasting” has begun. We speak of it in the words of George Eldon Ladd as “inaugurated eschatology.” However, what we have so far is only the beginning, as important as that is (Luke 4:16-21).

I want to write about this eternal life in terms of New Testament teaching on a new heaven and a new earth. I will make reference to a number of texts and make comments on each one.

I also want to acknowledge the writings of N. T. Wright and J. Richard Middleton. They have been instrumental in awaking in me the anticipation of “life everlasting.”

Revelation 21:1-5

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

This passage speaks about what is known as the final state. The disappearance of the sea suggests the removal of evil and its influence. The Holy City, the New Jerusalem, is the post-resurrection Church, the bride of Christ, coming down out of heaven to the earth.

God himself will be with the people. Death, mourning, tears, and pain have passed away, along with the old order of things. Everything is being made new.

Acts 3:19-21

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.

Here is Peter, shortly after Pentecost, preaching the good news of Jesus. The recently ascended Christ must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything. Here, “life everlasting” is about the restoration of “everything.”

Ephesians 1:9-10

And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

Here in this amazing salvation text, beginning in verse three, Paul says some of the most startling words in the New Testament. God will bring all things in heaven and on earth together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ! Salvation involves the task of unifying everything that has been fragmented or alienated, thereby bringing oneness and wholeness and healing! How comprehensive is that?!

This is the nature of “life everlasting.”

Colossians 1:19-20

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Paul does not limit the efficacy of Christ’s atonement to humanity. It speaks of peacemaking and reconciliation as all inclusive as possible in heaven and on earth!

2 Peter 3:10-13

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

The text has the language of judgment and fire. But notice “the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” It seems the fire will have a cleansing or purifying purpose. This suggests that the new heaven and new earth refer to renewal and restoration, rather than replacement and starting again from scratch. I think the language of destruction does not apply to the creation, but to the judgment of sin.

Romans 8:19-23

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Here we have the imagery of labour pains in childbirth and the imagery of the Israelites groaning in the slavery under Pharaoh. These images are applied to the human condition, but moving well beyond that to the entire created order.

This is creation itself experiencing the liberation and freedom from the bondage brought on by the sin and rebellion of sinful humanity. It’s another salvation story of God, repairing what was broken in all creation, along with the redemption of the children of God.

Since the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2, followed by the heartbreaking results of human sin and autonomy in chapters 3 and following, it has always been God’s intention, motivated by His matchless love and mercy, to see heaven and earth come together, so that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven!  This is the Kingdom of God that Jesus announced at His first coming and it will be fulfilled and completed when He returns!

Then we can joyfully and gratefully repeat the words spoken at creation: “It is good; it is very good!”

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

David Thiessen
David Thiessen

David Thiessen (BA, BTh, MCS) has done a lifetime of pastoral ministry together with his wife Merna. He served as the EMC Conference Pastor from 2000 to 2011. While he is toying with retirement, he is currently the part-time interim pastor at Mennville EMC in Manitoba’s Interlake.